Yesterday’s Take Note covered the first half of my work equation, the actual entry part. But what of the critical organization step? Sure, I mentioned I had Quicksilver and Spotlight to keep the structure hounds at arm’s length, but there needs to be some organization. I’ve never been one of those people who keeps every file I’m working with on the desktop, and I wasn’t going to start now.
There’s also the presentation issue, and the access limitation issue, and the categorization issue, and…man, I sure do have issues!
If you’ve read the title of this post, you probably know what the solution is, but I’m a big fan of nuances, so let’s take a look at criteria and how I picked the tools I’m using.
- I needed something that I can categorize all my notes in, preferably with a hierarchy. Quick at-a-glance category views are essential; at a glance by date is also needed regularly.
- I needed it to be quickly and easily limited to certain blocks of users – my notes are not for campus-wide dissemination.
- Feedback from others is nice but not required.
- It’d be great if it fit in with my existing notetaking style.
Like everyone else in the world, I first considered a wiki – and dismissed it pretty quickly. Don’t get me wrong – wikis are great for a lot, like music game information, but not where I’m the only one I want to be editing. These are my notes, and I intended to keep them that way.
They always say you should go with what you know, and if there’s any world, it’s this one – a blog was the answer. To be specific, it would be a workblog – not the Robert Scoble speaking-to-end-users boast-about-projects sort of blog, but one inside the firewall, limited to just my department. I’ve since found that this is referred to as “dark blogging“.
The next question was, what blog software? The main criteria here was speed and simplicity. Waiting for rebuilds, fighting with databases and PHP incompatabilities, getting hung up on template changes – this is not what I wanted to be wasting my time on. (I attempted to use MovableType while I was at Freeverse, and I ran into enough slowdown that I ditched it quick.) I just wanted a setup that worked quickly and wouldn’t get in my way.
What I Went With
If you’ve seen or read Frank Miller’s Sin City, this will make sense to you: Blosxom is the Miho of blog software. Silent (it’s a perl script that generates almost no load), agile (rebuilds are instant), tiny (the download is 5.7k), deadly (lots of functionality and plugins, including Markdown).
Making my heirarchy (which I’ve labeled as “tags” merely to seem cooler) in Blosxom is as simple as making nested folders. New categories are instantly created as I need them, and just as easily renamed or deleted. As I said yesterday, my project flow is anything but tranquil, so being able to quickly add new projects or tools is a godsend.
Blosxom looks great out of the box, and with only minimal punching up of the CSS declarations did I get the look and feel I wanted. Stripping out the comment functionality was a quick delete in one or two templates. All things considered, I’ve spent well under a day in the six months I’ve been using Blosxom fine-tuning the system; this is far less than nearly every other tool I’ve had to learn.
The sort of intangible magic about Blosxom I can’t get over is I don’t feel like I’m blogging. I write notes, I save them in a folder, and magically there’s this beautiful web page that’s accessible, searchable, and categorized. It’s really transparent over top of a system I would probably be keeping anyhow just to maintain my notes; the value added is unbelievably high.
(I would love to take a screenshot of the workblog, but I’m going to refrain for two reasons. One, it’s less visually thrilling than this blog. Two, there aren’t really any documents I can take a picture of and not worry about the security implications. So sorry.)
I continue to go with what I know: I’ve been working with Apache for five years now. Three of those years have been in a professional sense. OS X comes with 1.3 installed and configured decently out of the box. There’s no compelling reason not to use it. (I did need to install mod_auth_ldap separately, but I’m getting used to that.)
Who wants the added value as justification for starting another blog? I do, I do!
Workblog as Catchup Method
As I think I mentioned in the What I Do post, my e-learning group – the people I’m directly working with on most projects – numbers a huge 3 people, including myself. When you factor in sick days, vacation, time at branch offices, conferences, et cetera, you end up with a dire need to bring each other up to speed frequently. And with the number of defined and ad-hoc projects that come up, keeping everything in context in your brain is difficult. The workblog removes the need to juggle everything in my brain when catching people up. It also allows, when applicable, asynchronous catch-up: I don’t have to draw everything out, and the other person doesn’t have to drop what they’re doing and take copious notes.
Perfect example of this: My supervisor, John, was out sick Monday and Tuesday. In addition to my regular projects, I had two product evaluations to do, a software tire-kick and project plan I wanted to do, a fire to put out, and a few things that John had emailed to me to look into. When he finally emerged from meetings today and had time to get brought up to sync, it was 5 minutes of quick, directed discussion – and he can always revisit the notes if he needs to recall.
Workblog as Replacement Dan
The above catchup also works to great effect when I’m not in the office. The workblog acts as my permenant braindump, always being added to and up-to-date. I’m always packaged up and ready to have my brain picked – there’s a search plugin, and all the posts are well-categorized. This saves everyone time – I don’t get bothered as much when I’m away from the office, and my co-workers don’t have to wait for me to actually read my email should the answer be in the blog.
(Luckily, the workblog is not autonomous, so it can’t actually replace me. I think.)
Workblog as Rendering Engine
I mentioned yesterday that I can easily toss Markdown-formatted text documents onto our document repository and not have them look bizarre, and this will always be true. Still, there’s sometimes I want a pretty rendered version of the document in a format I can pass to people outside of the immediate department.
Simple solution: Fix up a printable template, load the article in question, and have OS X print it to a PDF file. Instant pretty documentation, with very little work required.
Workblog as Email Insanity Reducer
Everyone has gone through it at least once in their lives: multiple revisions of the same document in similarly titled email from the same person. The workblog gives me a single pointer I can hand people to the document, and if I need to revise it later, they won’t ever be stuck looking at an old version.
Workblog as Instant Collaboration Publisher
I went on about SubEthaEdit yesterday – if I save a multi-user document into the proper category folders, we’ve got an instant groupblog. No login juggling, no waiting for someone else to finish working on the post – just pure, unadulterated group posting.
I really enjoy workblogging. Blosxom provides instant gratification, transforming my simple notes into a truly rich resource for everyone in my department. It stays out of my way and accomplishes its task extremely well. It’s really a best of breed tool for solitary workblogs.
If you want to try Blosxom for your own workblog – be it for an actual job or a quick project – be sure to come back on Friday for a 10 minute tutorial on how to get your Mac quickly transitioned into a lean, mean workblog.